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Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India

by Priyam Global Initiative, Inc
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Support & Mentor Special Needs Mothers in India
Distributing cash, food, and health supplies
Distributing cash, food, and health supplies

Around the world, the most vulnerable households – those without essential economic resources or social support – are at the greatest risk of both the immediate effects and the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. In one south Indian community, Priyam Global is uniquely positioned to support families who need it.

For five years, our programs have been embedded within the only special education school that serves impoverished families in that area. Our response to the pandemic in the last few months has been a beautiful pairing of our external resources (funding) and the expertise of the school staff, some of whom are also Priyam staff. Our staff have shown themselves to be wizards in coordinating the logistics of a pandemic relief effort during a lockdown.

At Priyam, we usually focus on cultivating the income-earning potential of mothers who are raising children with disabilities. We equip them to join the local job market, build a social network of support, and reclaim their lives from poverty.

However, India has been under an intense lockdown for the past two months. Most of our families have lost their livelihoods; fathers are not able to go to their daily wage jobs, and mothers are not able to make or sell the items that they learned at Priyam Global. With all of our usual programs on pause, the Priyam Global team has shifted roles from offering psychosocial support for mothers to providing a frontline response for their entire families.

On April 20, we distributed food to each family, enough to last for two weeks. Care kits included oil, lentils, spices, sugar, rice, and other basic food items. Each family also received a direct cash transfer of almost $100, which is the equivalent of one month of income for many families. The cash was used to pay rent, electricity, and other food items, like fresh vegetables and milk.

On May 28, as the lockdown continued with no end in sight, we distributed the same care kits and repeated cash transfer, but this time also provided face masks, hand sanitizer, and sterile gloves. In May, we also paid for the medical expenses of one of the families, whose young boy with autism was briefly admitted to the hospital.

We will continue to respond to the emerging needs of our families as the situation evolves. In particular, we are committed to ensuring that our families do not go hungry or lose their homes.

We would not be able to do this without our supporters. Thank you for being a part of Priyam and for your donations now and over the years. With all that is happening right now, it can be easy to feel powerless. But sometimes responding is as simple as sharing what we have when others have less, keeping our eyes and our hearts open, and being willing to give. And that's you. Thank you!

Please consider giving a recurring monthly donation for the next few months to support our pandemic response in Chennai, India. Recurring donations can be adjusted or canceled at any time.

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At the heart of our work in India is the wish to create space for women to dream again. These women have survived so much heartbreak and loss that they often begin to feel defined by surviving, by just getting through each day.

On the first day of each cohort, when women are welcomed into the program, we start talking about the future. We ask what they want, what they think is possible. When the dreams begin to form – usually in two or three months – we start asking how they think they can achieve those goals. What specifically do they need? What specifically can they do?

It takes time for a mind to shift from surviving to thriving. From just trying to make it to trying to dream in color. This is why our program length is somewhat flexible – each cohort and the women in it need different amounts of time.

But a shared dream begins to take shape. Slowly at first, and then with more momentum and more excitement, the women in our program began talking about a dream of opening a shop in Chennai. This shop would be a dedicated space for selling the products that they make, and would increase their reach for potential buyers.

We're so happy to report that on November 15, India's national Children's Day, the dream came true: Priyam Global renovated a shop space and opened a storefront in Chennai!

This little shop is home to baskets, jewelry, and other products handmade by the MAHLA family of women. We also hired a woman as a full-time employee to manage the shop, and the mothers were so excited to make their first sales and share the profits.

Thank you so much for all of your support and belief in our work. This is the kind of work that your donations create in India: opportunities for steady work and self confidence, growing dreams and new futures, and stronger mothers – who create stronger families.

Supporting a mother is the best way to help a child. Thank you for helping us create opportunities for mothers of children with disabilities to support, empower, and learn from one another — creating friendships and networks between women that are strong and lasting.

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In the early years of a social change initiative, it often feels like momentum is driven by the founder. Decisions, systems, inquiries, and key shifts in direction all move forward, initially, from the mind of the founder. But the day-to-day decisions are actually the least of a founder's responsibility: her ultimate goal is to create a process that flows without her.

When a social change initiative becomes more rooted in the place and people who benefit from it, and less reliant on the resources and ideas of the founder herself, this is when the concept of sustainability, of lastingness, shifts from concept to reality.

This shift happened noticeably in April of this year, as my role evolved from leader to advisor. In the last few months, I've observed Priyam expand in new directions with very little of my own input. We have a strong foundation of systems and structures in place, a supportive global community (you as you're reading this!), a MAHLA family of strong female graduates, and an organic sense of momentum.

This month, we're embarking on next steps and new dreams. We are opening a new MAHLA storefront in Chennai to support the livelihoods of all MAHLA graduates and we are simultaneously recruiting a new group of ten mothers of young children with autism – our third cohort!

A little more than twenty women completed the extension phase of the MAHLA program in July; the extension was formed by graduates from Year 1 and Year 2 who met several times each week since February to consistently meet weekly product targets (e.g., number of baskets and mats woven) and continue to participate in monthly life skills and knowledge classes.

This fall, we are opening a shop in Chennai to sell the products that the mothers make. We will also hire a full-time employee to manage sales. And we also welcome a new cohort of ten mothers who will begin their year in the intensive phase of the MAHLA program – a year of classes in topics ranging from healthy nutrition to healthy communication, parenting, and child development paired with a year of mentorship and livelihood training in skills like basket and rug weaving, sewing, and jewelry. These new mothers all have a child aged 0–6 years old who has been diagnosed with autism, and they have all been selected by Priyam Global from a new government-funded school for children with autism. 

I feel genuinely hopeful about the world when I watch Priyam unfold. Somehow, in this messy world of disconnection, insincerity, and what feels like a collective inability to see and to listen, with your help we have created a little ecosystem in India where women can truly see and listen to each other, connect in lasting ways, and live and work with an authenticity that I aspire to.

Thank you for your support, as always.

If you would like to support us financially, we currently need a few new monthly recurring donations ($25–$50/month) to take the torch from a few long-term monthly donors who recently needed to step down. You can always set up a new monthly donation here. Otherwise, look for our next report in December!

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April 2019 – Chennai, India

For the first time in five years, the sky is blue.

It's my eleventh trip here in five years, but my first in April. Every day, all day, yellow-blossomed copperpods and pink mariposa trees wave in a gentle breeze beneath a clear sky. The polluted clouds of winter are gone and the the oppressive heat of summer has not yet descended. And with the balmy blue-skyed shift of spring, I sense a shift in Priyam, too. A steadiness of purpose and connection.

I arrive to the Priyam office on my first morning, ready for a progress briefing with my team. I'm eager for updates: how has the MAHLA Project Phase 2 unfolded since we launched it in February?

Here's what I find:

  • The women consistently meet together in the center 4-5 days per week
  • They practice making woven mats, baskets, tote bags, and clothing – organized into small groups based on their interests, talents, and skills
  • Together with Rani and Gereena, our program director and coordinator, the women have created clear proposals – including cost analyses – for what they want to do next. Some will work alone, focusing on jewelry or sewing, but most intend to form small collectives to work towards product targets, build a client base, and sell products together.
  • The women are relaxed and comfortable together, teasing and teaching and supporting each other in a steady flow of words and laughter as they work.

On this trip, we focus on teamwork, communication, and of course – laughter.

We spend a day at the beach, followed by visits to a temple and a church, for our second annual beach day. Honestly, is there anything like getting drenched by the sea under a blue sky, the rhythm of the waves, your children shrieking and laughing, to lift some of the weight from your chest? Far too often, poverty steals the chance for lightheartedness, for forgetfulness. It becomes impossible to escape even just for a day. This doesn't seem fair, so we have Priyam beach days. They are always a highlight. The colorful saris of the women swirl in the water, their long braids dripping with saltwater, the children are ecstatic (and so are the mothers), everyone is soaked. I get sunburned. We feel like a family.

On another day, in the center, I lead a session that we all should do more often: the women sit cross-legged on the floor and take turns answering the following questions aloud. What am I proud of about myself? What am I good at? I do it, too. It's strange and new to celebrate ourselves in this way, but it feels powerful.

I open and close the session with a short group meditation: we put our hands on our chests and our bellies, breathe deeply, and feel gratitude for our own strength and resilience.

Priyam is no longer just about alleviating immediate survival needs. We've made it to a deeper level, to the places where the heart and the mind can begin to shift and grow in permanent ways.

In that small lemon-yellow room, I am struck by how much I have learned from these women. They learn from each other, they learn from me, and I learn from them. We are more than a project or an organization or an initiative. We have become a sisterhood.

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Have you ever read Priyam Global's Manifesto? It's a little paragraph that outlines Priyam Global's core values. Focus on relationships. Brainstorm often and together. Welcome complexity. Evaluate and pivot. Be dynamic. Plan for the longterm. Stay humble. First drafted in 2015, that little paragraph continues to shape how we operate today.

Our plans to expand into rural areas of Chennai in early 2019 were based on careful thought and detailed evaluations of the situation in the communities where we work, alongside a realistic perspective of what we currently know and what we still need to learn. After two years of piloting our MAHLA project, which supports mothers of children with disabilities to develop self-confidence, strong friendships, and income-generating skills, we felt pretty confident that we had enough experience to begin turning our focus outward – beyond the families of children enrolled in our partner Hope School. 

Then, at the end of our second pilot year in December 2018, we interviewed every woman who has graduated from our program (a total of 24) and held several group conversations to hear their feedback and get a sense for how equipped they actually were to maintain lasting change for themselves and their families.

What evolved from these conversations was a two-fold realization:

  1. Our program is meeting the real needs of mothers and resulting in lasting emotional and mental improvement. This is illustrated by the 0% drop-out rate from our program, the steady attendance, and the obvious ease and love between the mothers compared to their withdrawn and anxious states at the beginning of the program.

  2. Equipping mothers with skills and knowledge, improving their wellbeing, and helping them to create the ability to make lasting change was the first step; now we need to support their own leadership capacity. The mothers unanimously requested a six month extension of the program, which we are referring to as Phase 2. In this phase, mothers from our first and second cohorts will be combined into a single group. Now that the mothers have useful skills and a wider perspective of their own value and worth, we need to teach them how to use their skills: how to set goals and objectives, how to problem solve, and how to advocate for their own needs. Taking part in our program infused the women with forward momentum, and now through practice and a modified version of support, we will work to ensure that this momentum is deeply ingrained and sustainable.

We have decided to grant the mothers' request and enrolled all 24 mothers in Phase 2, which begins this week! The women will have 6 months to practice together, teach each other, and work to meet various product targets. We are developing a personal capacity-building curriculum, and the women will participate in ongoing workshops to articulate their dreams, set goals, set priorities, solve problems creatively, and develop ther new-found confidence.

The standard approach for development and poverty alleviation programs is to set a fixed timeline based on funding and to end the program at a pre-determined time. However, the result of this is that the globe is littered with development projects that have ended too early or in the wrong way, and as a result any progress made during the project is lost. This is a waste of time, resources, effort, and hope.

We believe that by providing this additional support to the women in our program, who have consistently proven their commitment to improving their situations and making the life that they hope for, we will safeguard the investment we have already made in their lives. We also believe that a strengthened and unified family (as the MAHLA mothers refer to themselves) will become a self-sustaining network of mothers that can grow organically, a network that expands through the leadership of women who have already graduated.

We still plan to expand to rural areas, but have put that plan on hold for the next few months.

As always, feel free to email info@priyamglobal.org if you have any questions about our program. It is the power of individual donations that allows us the flexibility we need to continually improve our project based on the complexities of real lives, real people, and real possibilities. Thank you for funding this project!

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Organization Information

Priyam Global Initiative, Inc

Location: Bloomington, IN - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @priyamglobal
Project Leader:
Michaela Cisney
Bloomington, IN United States
$18,173 raised of $20,000 goal
 
193 donations
$1,827 to go
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